Tag Archives: ginaissance

Conker Spirit RNLI Navy Strength Gin

A type of gin that I am enjoying exploring is Navy Strength Gin, a type not for the fainthearted or for those who blanche at paying more than £40 for a bottle. Still, it does the soul good to push the boat out now and again, especially when your purchase contributes to a good cause. Many distilleries spawned by the ginaissance are tripping over themselves to brandish their green and sustainability credentials, and while that is undoubtedly a good thing, you cannot but help thinking that unless there is a universally concerted effort, it is but a small drip in the vat of life.

Conker Spirit, based in Bournemouth and established in 2014 as Dorset’s first gin distillery have decided to take a different approach with their Conker Spirit RNLI Navy Strength Gin. It follows their template of excellence in craftsmanship and the use of the best possible ethical ingredients but is dedicated to the courageous men and women who risk their lives to save the skins of seafarers who have got into trouble. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, for that is that fine body of people, receives a donation of £5 for every bottle sold.   

The bottle has a dumpy, squat shape with broad shoulders, a small neck, and a coppery coloured screwcap. On the shoulder is embossed in the glass “Conker Spirit” at the front and at the back “Dorset Est 2014”. The label at the front has a serrated bottle top look about it using navy blue, white, and copper to good effect. They proudly display the RNLI logo, not once but twice, although only once in colour. The labelling at the rear extols the virtues of the RNLI quite rightly, but there is precious little about the gin itself, save that my bottle is number 997 from batch ten. While I am happy to endorse the RNLI, it would be nice to know something about the spirit other than it has an ABV of 57%. Perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, after some digging, I find that there are nine botanicals involved in the mix, a fairly conservative line up of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, and cassia bark, with bitter orange peel and fresh lime peel providing the citric notes and marsh samphire and elderberry giving a distinctive twist.     

On the nose the aroma is distinctively that of juniper and in the glass the spirit is remarkably clear retaining its clarity even with the addition of a premium tonic – no louching here. In the mouth the juniper makes its presence known loud and clear, but the spirit is balanced with the citrus elements and the herbaceous notes. There is a pepperiness that comes through which together with the spicier botanicals produces a long and pleasant warming aftertaste. It takes the best of a classic London Dry adding a bit of oomph and a slightly saline, nautical twist to present a very well-balanced, moreish tipple.

If you are looking to dip your toe in the water with Navy Strength gins, this is a good place to sart.

Until the next time, cheers!

Jynevra Organic Gin

In 2006 that head brewer Stuart Thompson and distiller David Carbis formed Atlantic Brewery with the specific brief of creating unique, memorable, and quality small batch alcoholic drinks. They quietly beavered away for a decade or so on Treisaac Farm, a 2.5-acre site a few miles from the sea near Newquay in Cornwall, making a name for themselves by using traditional methods to create contemporary organic ales, using the wealth of natural and organic ingredients which they grow on the farm, including their own hops, or forage or otherwise acquire from the county. Atlantic Brewery is still an important part of their endeavours.

However, in 2017 they decided to see if they could make some headway in the market spawned by the ginaissance and established Atlantic Distillery. They now have a range of gins and vodkas to offer the discerning drinker, all organic, vegan, and organic producer and processor accredited. Their sustainable practices ensure that the botanicals used in their spirits are free from herbicide, pesticide, and insecticides. Adding further to their green credentials, Atlantic Distillery is powered by the wind and Cornish sunshine, they use their own Cornish spring water and for packaging, the bottles are made from re-cycled glass, the labels are paper rather than plastic and the cardboard boxes contain as little printed matter as possible.

The spirits are distilled in copper Bain-marie stills, which are essentially double boilers, often used to produce delicate sauces such as hollandaise and béarnaise as well as alcoholic beverages. The design is simple; an interior pot chamber which sits above a larger pot half-filled with water. The water acts as a form of insulation, allowing the mixture in the interior pot known as the mash, to heat slowly, and generally very evenly, thus preventing the botanicals from scorching and preserving their natural flavours.

Bain-maries can run continuously, as the water does not need to be replaced often. Steam is purified by the still’s copper, is condensed, and then falls back into the large pot to be used again. They are also highly efficient; the reflux and natural refining of the distillate means that fewer cuts are needed to make the spirit.

Jynevra is Cornish for gin and, appropriately, is the name for what Atlantic Distillery describes as its signature gin, and the first they produced. The bottle is squat, dumpy with pale green glass. Rounded shoulders lead up to a short neck, a wooden cap, and a cork stopper. The eye-catching part of the bottle os the labelling just below the neck, a riot of copper coloured engraving and wording against a black background, giving it a distinctive and somewhat old-fashioned feel. Underneath that, the essential information, including its ABV of 40% is given in more subdued black and white lettering against a blue background.

Sadly, they are not forthcoming on the precise make up of the botanicals, but it is clear from the aroma of the spirit that there is a bold hit of juniper, and that orange dominates the citric elements. This impression is not dispelled when the crystal-clear spirit is poured into a glass. The juniper is punchy and more than holds its own against the overtures of the orange, bergamot, soft spices, and some discernible floral notes.

I wonder if Juniper and orange is a particularly Cornish combination. I have had several gins over the last couple of years from the region where orange is the dominant citric element. I am not complaining as I think it makes a great companion for the juniper.

All in all, this is a delightful gin, one that grows on you. It is well worth seeking out.

Gin Resolutions

Here are my hopes for the gin world for 2023.

Survival of the fittest

With rising energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis, you do not to be a genius to realise that the artisan gin world is going to have a tough time with many lucky to come out the other side with a business intact. Let’s hope that as many as possible survive, especially those that bring something distinctive and refreshing to the market, survive to tell the tale and resist the siren calls of the big boys.

More information for the consumer

The other side of the coin is that the consumer will have less spare cash to make impulse purchases and will increasingly stick with the tried and tested. Gins that command a premium price will be seen even more as a luxury item, a treat. There is even greater incentive for distillers to be more up-front with the identity of the botanicals they use and the flavour profile, stripping away the marketese to give the prospective consumer an honest description of what is inside the bottle. While the precise calibration of botanicals is, rightly, a trade secret, it is not too much to expect a complete list of botanicals rather than a select number plus “special ingredients”. Distillers who are open about their product are more likely to survive.

Industry standards

With too many products marketed as gins that are either not gin by the generally accepted definition, having an ABV of 37.5% or above, or where the juniper has been so dissipated that it has waved a white flag and surrendered, there is a very strong case for a strengthening of the criteria for a gin to be so classified. At the same time, a standard flavour profile could be agreed on and distillers encouraged/forced to include it on their labelling. It is getting a bit of a Wild West out there and serious distillers and gin enthusiasts would welcome such steps. Let’s hope 2023 sees some progress on this.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin Awards 2022

It is around this time that the editor, scratching their head to fill the space, suggests that it would be a good idea to pick out some of the highlights of the year. Well, here goes. Over the next three posts I will pick out the pick of the crop in my exploration of the gin scene in 2022.

The Gin is Juniper Award

Never Never Triple Juniper Gin

There is more than a whiff of Master Chef in this beaut from South Australia and the deservedly globally acclaimed Never Never Distilling Company. Gin is a spirit where juniper should first and foremost, with other botanicals playing to its strengths not overpowering, something that many distillers seem to lose sight of. Not Never Never.

Rather like triple-cooked chips, they use three different processes for adding the juniper. First, it is macerated in the spirit for 24 hours before it is filtered out, then fresh juniper is added to the macerated spirit and distilled, and then the vapour basket contains yet more juniper.

It is not just a pure hit of juniper but something more complex and subtle, using coriander, angelica, orris root, pepper berry, and cinnamon to good effect. Citrus elements are provided by orange and pomelo, which are detectable to the nose, giving the intense hit of juniper even greater depth. This is gin heaven.

Makar Original Dry Gin

Closer to home, this is the Glasgow Distillery’s paean to juniper. Produced since 2014, it uses seven other botanicals – lemon peel, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cassia bark, rosemary, angelica root, and liquorice – each carefully selected to complement, support, and enhance the juniper. Old school the botanicals may be, but they make a wonderfully complex gin which sees the juniper assert its dominance after allowing the lighter elements to tickle the palate.

Makar is Gaelic for poet and this gin is a distinctive ode to the botanical that is the cornerstone of gin.

Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin

Sticking to your knitting can be a tad boring. Hendrick’s Gin is a brand of gin launched in 1999 by William Grant & Sons from their distillery in Girvan and its distinctive cucumber and rose infused spirit has long established itself as a market leader in contemporary style gins. However, in recent years they have become a bit more adventurous, perhaps in reaction to the pressures of the ginaissance, launching a series of limited-edition gins, of which Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin is this year’s (2022) offering. I picked up a bottle at my local Waitrose store.

Hendrick’s used a blend of spirits produced in two different ways. Using a small pot still called a Bennett still which is filled with neutral spirit, the botanicals, and water, it is left to seep for 24 hours. The still is then heated and as it boils, vapours move up the column to the condenser, where they are collected. Once all the alcohol is collected the result is an oily, juniper-heavy spirit.

The other still used, a Carter-Head Still, one of few left in the world, deploys a different method. The botanicals are placed in flavour baskets at the very top of the still through which alcohol vapours pass and extract the requisite flavours and pass them into the condenser. Only lighter, sweeter, floral flavours can be extracted this way. The two different spirits are blended and cucumber essence and rose petal essence is added.

I have always been a little underwhelmed by Hendrick’s, the juniper being a little underpowered for my taste, and Neptunia uses the base botanicals of the original gin, distilled, presumably in the same way, but adds a little twist to justify its existence. The twist is that it is master distiller, Lesley Gracie’s take on a spirit inspired by the tumultuous waves of the Ayrshire coast. Producing a saline gin seems very much on trend in 2022 and there are lots of intriguing, outré botanicals to be found on the coastline, enough to whet the imagination of any self-respecting distiller.

Having made a big thing about the coastline botanicals, Hendrick’s are remarkably reticent about disclosing what they are. A shame as that is their marketing USP for this variant of their familiar gin. Given that it is based on the original we can assume that juniper, cucumber, rose, elderflower, cubeb pepper, angelica, caraway, chamomile, coriander, elderflower, orris roost, and a full complement of citrus elements are in the mix. The littoral flavour, it seems, is introduced by kelp and coastal thyme, but there may be others. There seem to be so many competing flavour profiles that only the most accomplished distiller can hope to tame them to produce a palatable drink.

And Lesley Gracie almost pulls it off. The aroma is complex, a melange of salinity, citrus, herbaceous and floral notes with a hint of earthiness of the juniper. In the glass the spirit is crystal clear and citrus heavy, the dominant citric notes only grudgingly allowing the juniper, the cucumber and rose, and later the floral elements to join the party. The aftertaste is dry and slightly salty, but also quite warm and spicy. It was a rollercoaster of tastes and sensations, more like being on a boat in a stormy sea than watching the waves crashing on to the rocks from the safety of the coastline.

With an ABV of 43.4% it is stronger than their original gin, but it is housed in the same distinctive apothecary’s bottle. The labelling has a maritime light blue as a background and features a picture of a mermaid in case you had not got the message. One from their “cabinet of curiosities” it is an acquired taste, one which will linger on my gin shelf.

Until the next time, cheers!